Historical Details

Barrett Family History

Courtesy of Our Heritage: Niobrarans and Neighbors, 11/03/2020


by Francis A. Barrett, M.D.

My father, Frank A. Barrett, was born in Omaha, Nebr. on Nov. 10, 1892.  My mother, Alice Catherine Donoghue, was born later in Omaha, on Feb. 4, 1897. They were childhood  friends and later, sweethearts.

On May 21, 1919, they were married by Father Flanagan, the founder of Boys' Town. It was the young priest's first marriage ceremony.  Their honeymoon was a trip to Lusk, where they settled; my dad to practice law and my mother to raise a family of three.  I was born June 29, 1920; my brother, James Emmett followed on April 8, 1922; and my sister Marialyce was born on Jan. 1, 1924. An infant daughter died shortly after her birth and is buried in Lusk.  Because my mother and dad achieved a certain degree of prominence, several biographical sketches and tributes have already been published.  I felt, then, that this account of our family might be better received if I were to recall instead some of my memories of the family and home over the years.

When mother and dad hit Lusk, it was a first-class boom town with oil activity galore. Dad had graduated with a law degree from Creighton University in 1916, and entered the Balloon Corps of the Army following graduation. It was after his discharge from the service that he married mother and came West.  In May 1919, my dad and mother landed in Lusk. It was a wild town, several times larger than its present population and a real booming frontier town, busy with practically every activity, but especially oil.

My dad located Major Alfred Beach, practicing law on the front porch of the old Bishop home on Main Street and told him he was looking for a place to practice. Major Beach told dad that all he had was the front porch and advised him to look around town. Later, dad came back and told the Major that he. couldn't find anything available and that the Major would have to let him in. The Major told dad to go over on the other side of the porch and open his office. There was no furniture so Alfred Beach got a young nephew of his to build dad a table.

This young nephew, a carpenter by trade, was Bill Edmundson. He and his wife, Maggie, had come to Lusk during the same week as my folks. Bill built the table and my mother and Maggie became acquainted. Maggie was my mother's first friend in Lusk and remained her dearest until the time of mother's death.

They built a small frame home on the south side of Lusk, including a "two-holer". Thus, they set sail and lived lives full of experiences that are rarely matched. Beneath their interesting and worthwhile accomplishments, though, rested an immense affection this couple felt for their friends in Niobrara County. This affection has been passed along intact to their children.

Some of the many memories which flood across my mind:

A gold football watch-fob inscribed "Coach,” one of dad's most prized possessions, a gift from the Lusk High School team which he and Happy Hartwell coached. The old cottonwood trees on Main Street and the wooden boardwalk, both of which lasted for many years before yielding to "progress". The unfortunate collision of the "bust" in the oil boom, the drought, the depression, and the grasshopper plague all hitting Lusk at about the same time in the late twenties and early thirties.One dry  summer  day when the drought was broken temporarily with one good rain and sight of the people who got out and walked and drove in the rain and mud. The many close friendships developed in helping one another during hard times that formed bonds never to be broken and later memories and good laughs over some of their misfortunes. Dad coming home and studying and reading practically every night during his life. The help that Emma Rogers gave my mother in times of need. The house on what is now Barrett Boulevard, purchased by dad during the depression which became a home deeply loved by the entire family, good times and bad.  Our Shetland pony, “Groundmouse", that we got from the O'Sheas of Lance Creek and her almost invincible ability to escape and head for home, and the many trips bringing her back. The cycle of caves that occupied the kids of Lusk every summer for many years and the amazing network of entrances, traps, large underground rooms, hidden air vents, and intricate conspiracies never fulfilled.  The "hidden" clubhouses built behind garages, in haylofts, perfect for smoking coffee wrapped in newspaper. The high school and town team games in the old wooden gymnasium north of the old grade and high school with scores of 10-8 and the wonderful "Carbon Black" team in their white and black outfits,  The high school games played in snow with coal dust as yard markers.   My dad taking us out to golf practi­cally every Sunday during the summer begin­ning with the sand oil course on the fair­ grounds and the devotion C.W. Erwin held for his game over the years. The great enjoyment dad had for the game of golf and, at the same time, possessing about the worst swing in America.  The many summers the kids of Lusk spent along the Niobrara River on the other side of the mining hill and the many  swimming holes. including "Big Bend" with its natural spring at the bottom.The  Saturday movies for a nickel and the terrible anxiety and suspense with the serials.    The advent of sound in movies  with Al Jolson.    The effect that the Tarzan movies had on the kids of Lusk---The trees along the Niobrara were filled with tree houses and local "Tarzans" swinging from one tree to another on their ropes. The devotion to the Catholic faith my mother and father maintained over the years. The Franciscan priests coming to Lusk twice a month as missionaries. Father Hermann coming to Lusk on Sunday to say Mass and playing the piano, everyone singing and Father Ignatius playing the violin. The shock experienced by Father Miller when Julius Baskey got up in the middle of Father's announcements and proposed a place for the parish picnic The shock experienced by my dad when he went to confession and the priest said, "Frank, what time is it?"

The fright I experienced when my brother Jim took a flashlight to bed and pretended that the Hickman murderer was in our room· Another scare when I thought I had successfully gotten to my room early one morning after a celebration only to turn on the light switch and hear a loud "whirring" noise which sent me yelling.  Mother, Dad, Marialyce, and Jim all had a good laugh because my mother had hooked the electric sweeper to the light plug. The wonderful music and dances we enjoyed during the thirties  at the Merry Whirl, Orin Junction, and in Mitchell, catching the "big bands" for one-night stands between the big cities.  The "snipe" hunts that Dad, Glen Cates, George Gibson and their friends held for the edification of visitors from the city. The many hours of enjoyment my dad spent visiting with Bill Hogan and Alfred Baca. Stomping wool for Frank Brooks at the bottom of a ten-foot-long wool sack in 100-degree heat,  the band we organized in high school entitled the "Rhythm Slingers" and its rec­ord  of one appearance   Jim's bout with pneumonia that left him unable to go out for high school sports.   He was allowed to golf and became by far the best golfer in our family.  The escapades of Bob Fernau and Jim in hounding practically every older kid in high school and the fun they had. Marialyce getting better grades than any­ body else in the family and also turning out to be the best mechanic with her Model T Ford which she and Jean Spacht drove every where. The surprise of my folks when Jim notified them that he had been put in the "dumb class" at school The happiness of my folks when Jim added that he was "the smartest one in the dumb class." The support we received as high school kids from the people of Lusk even though we lost most of our games. My mother watching me play basketball and calling her "bag of bones". The many happy hours we all spent in school. The athletic trips to the "big city" and the opportunity to go to a dime store.

The disappointment of seeing Lusk during World War II with friends gone and businesses closed. Driving my dad around the state, when he first campaigned for Congress.

The astonishing speed of the Ford V-8 when we had to make a political rally. The amazing ability of my dad to remember names and faces. My  later realizing that this ability stemmed from his friendship and interest in people   The annual Christmas trips we took to Omaha because, as mother put it, "Momma may not be alive next year" (she lived until the late 40's). The Omaha trip following section lines took two full days to begin with and the great pride in finally making it in one day years later. The great delight on seeing the light on top of the water tower when we returned home. Going away to Creighton and the Lusk Herald article reporting that I had "gone East to school.” The worst case of home sickness ever experienced and the scrapbook that my mother sent me which I poured over every day thereafter for months. The terrible days for my folks during World War II when Jim was reported missing in the. Battle of the Bulge.The many acts of kindness that my dad gave to servicemen and their families during World War II. The many personal acts of kindness and the compassion my mother extended to the less fortunate. The speed with which my mother and dad would return to Lusk at the first opportunity and the great happiness my mother felt at just being home with her friends.·The marriage of Marialyce to Dick Tobin and the reception at home. The Memorial Day Parade to the Cemetery, the annual address, and the reading of the names of the deceased Niobrara veterans by Otto Klemke. A wonderful display of remembrance for those gone but not forgotten.

 Dad and Mother left Lusk in 1942 following his election to Congress. I left Lusk in 1938 following my graduation from high school.Jim followed suit in 1940 and Marialyce in 1942. After attending Creigh­ton University and the University of Wyo., I was fortunate to obtain a medical degree from the University of Michigan and, later, training in surgery. I. married Harriett Holland and we have a family of eight child­ren.  Jim graduated from the University of Wyoming School of Law, returned to Lusk, where he practiced for many years prior to becoming Attorney General and then Federal Judge of the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Jim married Ann Martinez and they have three children.  Marialyce attended the University of Wyoming, Trinity College, and graduated from George Washington Univer­sity with a B.A. Degree. She received her law degree from Catholic University, married Dick Tobin of Casper, and they have practiced law as a partnership since their marriage. My sister had no children but has served as the best aunt in history to her nephews and nieces.

My mother and father are buried in Lusk and there are no more Barretts living in Niobrara County.  What living is, though, is a love and devotion to Lusk and Niobrara County felt by each and every one of us and the knowledge that our oldest and best friends will always be there.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Barrett, Francis (06/29/1920 - 09/29/1998) View Record
Obituary Barrett, Frank (11/10/1892 - 05/30/1962) View Record
Obituary Barrett, Alice (02/04/1897 - 02/17/1956) View Record
Obituary Barrett, James (04/08/1922 - 11/07/2011) View Record